Patriotism–enduring, impatient, non-ironic belief in the promise of the land you love–is the single greatest asset of successful societies. Successful societies struggle with their deficiencies and overcome them through collective efforts of will and sacrifice. Patriotism is the sentiment that makes a people demand reform, change and improvement in their country; patriotism is the source of the impatience and anger that makes abuses intolerable, injustice unacceptable and complacency a delusion.
It is this sentiment that makes us want to be one people. It is this shared feeling that allows us to rise above our differences–English and French, Aboriginal, Metis, Inuit, immigrants from every land–and makes a complex unity of us all.
This unity, never certain, never to be taken for granted, always a work in progress, has meaning for us, but it also offers an example to others. Canadians know as much as anyone about living together across the gulf of great differences; we know how to compromise with each other and yet maintain what is essential; we know how to live with the differences that cannot be overcome. We have some experience in respecting the rights of individuals and yet also protecting the collectivities of language and culture that give individuality meaning. We know something, too, about a national pride that is ironic, modest, self-deprecating yet also robust. We know the difference between true patriot love and false, between love that always respects the truth of who we are, however painful, and the love that devours the truth and replaces it with lies. Most of all, we know–as some other nations do not–that the question of who we are is never settled and that we rise to our best when we allow ourselves to imagine ourselves anew.
Excerpted from True Patriot Love by Michael Ignatieff (Toronto: Viking Canada, 2009), p. 176-77.